Every year thousands of our readers vote for their favorite books of the year in the She Reads Best of 2021 Awards. Find out more about the books that were nominated and see which book was voted the Best Nonfiction Book of 2021.
The winner of the Best Nonfiction Book of 2021 is . . .
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson
This is an incredible account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna helped launch a medical and scientific revolution. Jennifer was in sixth grade when she got ahold of her dad’s book titled The Double Helix, and after reading it, decided immediately that she would be a scientist and change the world by manipulating digital code, even when her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists. Doudna went on to turn a curiosity of nature into an invention that can transform the human race: a tool that can edit DNA, known as CRISPR. While an entirely new world of disease prevention was born, it also opened a new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
The nominees for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year are:
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
This collection of essays is all about the ways Black people and Blackness is performed in American culture. Abdurraqib, who is known for his writing about music, has crafted an incredible collection that reflects on how Black performance is inextricably tied to the essence of American culture. He’s touched on topics from Beyonce at the Superbowl to Black face, from Whitney Houston to the game of spades.
Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson
An honest and comical focus on Lawson’s experimental treatment for depression-transcranial magnetic stimulation, dealing with depression, and her frequent battles with her insurance company over coverage for the treatment. With her signature humor, she also tackles everyday issues including being attacked by bears, her vacuum cleaner, and of course, her husband Victor.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
Secrecy and self-delusion are powerfully intriguing, especially when it exists through three generations of history. This is the story of the Sackler family, who created Oxycontin, the opioid that sent the world into an epidemic in the 1990s. It details the addiction of a family’s legacy and power, and how one of the greatest fortunes of the world comes with a greater cost than anyone could imagine.
Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
This is a flow of history that follows African Americans through the four hundred years of oppression and achievements through ninety different perspectives and minds, using historical essays, short stories, and personal vignettes. From 1619, when the White Lion condemned Africans to the shores of Virginia, resulting in the inauguration of the African presence in what would become the United States, to present day, the writers help deconstruct the idea that Africans in America are a monolith, and offer up the range of ideas and experiences that have always existed with in the Black community.
Hola Papi by John Paul Brammer
You might be familiar with the column now substack íHola Papi! or you might not. Either way, you need John Paul Brammer! Through these short essays prompted from questions asking for advice, you learn more about how he got through tough periods of his life as a queer mixed-race guy—like dealing with imposter syndrome or coming out in, wait for it, a Walmart parking lot.
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
Legacy: some of it is honest and some of it is not. Clint Smith takes monuments and landmarks that stand as historical stories of how slavery has been central in the shaping of the United States. This is a deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history.
Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson
Phoebe unapologetically shares her perspective on what it feels like to be a Black woman in today’s world and the ups and downs that come along with it. Personal stories about her mom will make you laugh out loud, while she shares all of the reasons why she doesn’t want to be a mom herself.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
The Anthropocene is the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity. John Green uses his gift of storytelling to write a collection of essays about the paradoxical power of humans. We have drastically changed the world, but are far less powerful when it comes to changing it back.
This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
What is a drug? Why are tea leaves acceptable and a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime—even though both have addictive properties? Michael Pollan takes a look at three plant drugs—opium, caffeine and mescaline—and explores the cultures that grow up around these particular drugs, and considers about the human attraction to psychoactive plants.
What Doesn’t Kill You by Tessa Miller
This book brings the lives of chronically ill and disabled folks to the center. With a wide target audience, it embraces those who have chronic illnesses and/or disabilities, as well as those who do not. It also challenges ableism, which is often so stealth in its insidious presence that it is rendered invisible to the able-bodied.
Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley
“Yoke” is what Jessamyn Stanley calls the yoga of the everyday; a yoga that is not just about perfecting your downward dog but about applying the hard lessons of the daily project of living. Deeply personal and even reveals what she calls her own “whole-ass problematic”: Growing up Baháí, loving astrology, learning to meditate, finding prana in music. Jessamyn invites every reader to find the authentic spirit of yoke
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